If you’re a preacher, a preacher’s kid, or someone who loves the ministry and wants to be sensitive to their needs, this article is for you.
Today is my son’s seventh birthday and he loves the Lord and Legos very much. I think his love hierarchy is Jesus, his sister, and his Legos. I trail those things by a small but pronounced margin. On a sappy parental note; I love his toothy grin, his high pitched (and very frequent) laughter, his sensitive heart, and his never-ending questions that leave me scratching my gradually balding head.
My son has the distinction of being a second-generation preacher’s kid and a fifth-generation Apostolic Pentecostal. He’s got a pretty stalwart legacy of faith behind his little Lego littered life. He’s too young to really feel the pressures of being a PK but with every passing birthday I know he’s getting a little closer to feeling that burden.
My nine-year-old daughter is just starting to show the telltale signs of the PK pressure. I recognize them easily because I faced them myself. Sometimes they’re subtle and sometimes they’re manifested dramatically. Even before having kids of my own I’ve had a heart for PK’s. I’ve been privileged to speak at several PK seminars over the years, and listening to their stories takes me right back to my childhood faster than Odyssey’s Imagination Station (if you don’t know what that means, do yourself a favor and look it up).
I would never minimize the challenges that every child faces. Certainly, these are challenging times for children in general. It’s also true that being born into a preacher’s home is a tremendous privilege with certain built-in advantages. Having said that, there are unique difficulties and problems that are specific to PK’s. In the hopes of helping, or at the very least drawing some awareness to the issues, I am listing a few common PK problems below.
1. Extreme Feelings of Loneliness & Isolation: Because there are so few peers that can relate to the unique challenges of the ministry lifestyle, PK’s often feel lonely and isolated. They suffer in silence and deal with a lot of unresolved emotional tension. They usually feel ashamed to voice these feelings to their parents because they genuinely don’t want to hurt them or sound harsh towards the things of God they cherish so deeply.
2. Bitterness Towards Saints: PK’s parents are incredibly busy. Ministry isn’t something you can just turn off or punch a time clock and be done with. Saints often don’t realize that the ten minutes you just spent on the phone with them is just one of a series of hundreds of ten-minute phone calls that interrupted yet another family moment. Not to mention all the mandatory church events, bi-vocational ministry homes, impromptu counseling sessions, mountains of prayerful study time that sequesters preachers away from their families, meetings, administrative work, conferences, ministry-related travel, the business of life in general, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Also, pastor’s wives are unpaid workers with heavy loads of responsibility. They labor alongside their husbands, and although they are technically not on staff they shoulder an immense amount of time-consuming work. All of this can leave a PK feeling like everyone else is more important than them. Every need is more urgent than their need. Every crisis trumps their crisis. So, they retreat and grow bitter (or jealous) towards the people (or the church in general) who constantly pull mommy and daddy away. If left unresolved, those feelings can morph into bitterness towards mom and dad.
It’s not uncommon for kids to feel a level of bitterness towards their parent’s job responsibilities because it keeps them busy and away from home, but when a child starts feeling that way about the place they are supposed to go for spiritual nourishment real dangers are lurking.
3. They See the Ugly Underbelly: No matter how much their parents try to shield PK’s from the worst aspects of a church it is impossible to keep it all neatly hidden in a drawer. PK’s see their parents attacked by saints and sinners alike. They see their parents disrespected by people they thought were respectable, and they have a front row seat to the tragic showing of every backslider’s decline. Sadly, disgruntled saints will sometimes try to use a PK to get at their parents or cause a church rift. This is disgusting at best but not unusual.
PK’s see their parents at their highest high’s and their lowest low’s. They see Elijah calling fire from heaven and they see him running from Jezebel too. These are hard scenarios for a child to process and still love their church family like they should. Others may only see the public displays of respect for ministry, but PK’s see the ugly moments when the masks come off.
4. Unrealistic Expectations: PK’s live under a different set of expectations than most kids. And it can go from one extreme to the other. On the one hand, many people stereotype PK’s as being trouble makers, spoiled rotten, or bratty. On the other hand, many people expect PK’s to bypass their childhood completely and act like miniature perfectly mannered adults. PK’s live in a glass house where their every move is under the watching eye of curious people. Everything they and their parents do is highly visible and scrutinized. The feeling of constantly being under a microscope can devolve into spiritual and emotional suffocation.
Some PK’s live under the overwhelming pressure to grow up and be in the ministry just like their parents. I’ll never forget, I was all of eleven years old when someone very seriously asked if I knew Greek and Hebrew like my father.
To complicate things even further, if PK’s do feel called to the ministry they face the all-too-familiar critical eye of a watching crowd. Will they be more anointed than their parents or less anointed than their parents? Will they be as talented as their parents or less talented than their parents? Some PK’s balk at the emotional reality that some shoes just seem too big to fill.
Preacher’s Kids Are People Too. Bottom line, kids are kids. Preacher’s kids must learn, grow, laugh, cry, win, lose, fall, and get up just like every other kid. They have strengths and weaknesses. They have unique talents and special abilities distinct to them and them alone. Some are called to pastoral ministry while others are not. They are not puppets to be used in a sacrilegious game of tug-of-war. They have peculiar challenges and special advantages at the same time. Saints that love the ministry will love PK’s with grace, sensitivity, and understanding. And yes, your pastor and his wife will appreciate it more than words can express.
Final Note: For those that might be wondering, as far as I can tell no one in my church has ever been anything but sweet to my children. I truly appreciate the kindness and consideration that Apostolic Tabernacle shows my children on a regular basis.